That Seanad Éireann wishes to discuss the measures already taken on the impact and extent of recent storm and flood damage.
Vol. 124 No. 6
That Seanad Éireann wishes to discuss the measures already taken on the impact and extent of recent storm and flood damage.
I welcome this opportunity to inform the Seanad of the Government's response to the problems caused by severe storms over the past few months. Let me remind the Seanad that, over the weekend of 27-28 October 1989, the west and the northwest of the country was affected by prolonged heavy rain. On the weekend of 16-17 December 1989 a combination of high tides with swells and wind direction gave rise to problems in coastal areas from Cork to Louth. Damage to public property during the December storms related mainly to coastal defences, including piers, slipways and so on. There was, in addition, significant consequential damage to public roads in the immediate vicinity of the coast.
The Government responded positively to the claims by a number of local authorities for special grants to cover the cost of remedial works to roads and coastal erosion. The Minister for the Environment set aside £1 million from available funds and provided assistance towards the cost of remedial works to public roads. This £1 million was notified on 7 February to the counties mainly affected during the October and December storms. During his budget speech, the Minister for Finance announced a special grant of £0.95 million towards the cost of coastal protection at Arklow on foot of the storm damage. In addition, the Minister for the Marine announced a 50 per cent grant to Wexford County Council for the pier at Kilmore Quay and £100,000 for boat repairs at the same location.
During the month of February, very heavy rainfall over a wide area on a number of days caused most of our problems. The number of days with gales has also been in excess of the February average and in some locations the highest on record. On 13 February, the Taoiseach announced the establishment of a special Cabinet sub-committee comprising the Ministers for Finance, Environment, Marine and Agriculture. In so far as Minister Flynn's own area of direct responsibility is concerned, all local authorities were requested to submit detailed reports on the damage and estimates of costs of remedial works. At the same time the Ministers for the Marine and Agriculture and Food were having similar assessments carried out in their areas of responsibility. Final reports on marine, agriculture and environment-related issues have been considered by the special sub-committee and the sub-committee report has been submitted to the Cabinet.
For the record, I must say that there are limits to the area of responsibility of the Minister for the Environment and to the funds at his disposal to give assistance. For example, there are no funds available to compensate for any damage to private properties caused by the adverse weather. Householders would normally be expected to have their property and the contents insured against those losses from flooding. In needy cases it is open to the health boards to provide assistance to elderly householders under the Task Force on Special Housing Aid for the Elderly. Money has been paid through that agency on previous occasions.
It is a long established practice that the Exchequer cannot meet the losses incurred by businesses as a result of their being uninsured. That, may I add, is not a personal view or indeed the view of the Government. It is the policy which has existed throughout the history of the State and it has never been broken. Indeed, following Hurricane Charlie, in August 1986 the then Fine Gael-Labour Coalition endorsed this policy.
Turning again to public roads it is important to note that the significantly increased discretionary grants for regional and county roads which have been notified to local authorities in 1990 may be used in appropriate cases to undertake the remedial works arising from the bad weather. The grants to county councils under this heading amount to over £63 million in 1990 compared with £47.4 million under the equivalent heading in 1989 and £33.4 million in 1987. There has been a very big increase in the amount of money that has been allocated by way of discretionary grants and I am again advising the local authorities accordingly that they can use the money to deal with the roads problem.
I would also like to make a few remarks about the EC Disaster Fund. Let me tell what the fund does not do. The fund does not cover damage to public structures, it does not compensate for damage to property and it is not for infrastructural projects or remedial schemes. The principal objective of the funds is to provide urgent aid to Community residents who are the victims of natural catastrophes that are recognised as being of exceptional scale and gravity. The fund is largely symbolic in that it represents a testimony of a solidarity of the other peoples of the Community to those members who find themselves in a situation of profound material and moral distress. The budgetary resources of the fund are tiny, amounting in 1990 to some four million ECU — £3.1 million approximately — in respect of the Community as a whole.
In deciding to intervene in any case, the factors that are taken into account by the EC Commission are the extent of loss of life, the numbers made homeless and the degree of hardship suffered by those affected. The fund does not purport to offer strict compensation for the damage suffered by victims.
Last Tuesday night in the Dáil the Minister for Finance announced that the EC had granted a total of £153,000 in disaster relief following the recent storms. These moneys will be distributed by the Irish Red Cross Society on strict criteria laid down, not by the Government but by the EC Commission.
I would like to record my deep appreciation to the local authorities and the emergency services for their marvellous response to the problem which the bad weather presented. Throughout the past few months they have been doing an admirable job, the Garda, the Defence Forces, the fire brigades, the civil defence, all local authority employees throughout the country and all those involved in the emergency services, deserve our thanks.
Before I call the next speaker I want to remind Members that in accordance with the order of the House this morning each speaker has ten minutes and this debate is to conclude not later than 4.30 p.m.
I welcome this debate. It is appropriate that this House should discuss this matter, somewhat belatedly. At this time we have an opportunity to see the real damage that has been done over the past two months. The homes and property of a very large number of people have been seriously affected by the storm and flood damage. The most vulnerable people should be compensated so that they can, at least, make their homes habitable. I am referring to people who cannot afford insurance to meet natural disasters. Farmers who have been seriously affected, particularly those in the the disadvantaged areas whose lands have been extensively flooded, should be provided with fodder for their stock.
Three precedents were set by the previous Governments, I do not for the life of me understand why the Government have stood idly by and allowed this situation to develop, particularly where homes were flooded and people were marooned. The Government failed to respond to the needs of those people. I am extremely alarmed that the Government ignored the fact that a serious problem existed for over two months. The first acknowledgement of the problem was when they set up a Dáil Cabinet Subcommittee some weeks ago, two months after the devastating storms on the night of the 16-17 December. I go as far as to say that somebody will have to be lost before the Government take positive action to alleviate the major problems that exist in some of our rural areas.
I refer particularly to three previous occasions when major aid was provided as a result of flooding. In 1954 the then Minister for Agriculture, James Dillon, made special aid available to the victims of the Shannon Valley floods. At that time farmers whose homes and lands were flooded, got the opportunity of transferring to Leinster and getting new farms there, or, alternatively, new homes were provided for them. Let me put it on the record here this evening that homes that were not flooded in 1954 — Senator Fallon will be well aware of this — are flooded today. I am now calling on the Minister to recognise the exceptional circumstances that exist in many of our areas, but particularly in the Shannon and Suck valleys, where farmers are facing impossible conditions, many families are marooned and many farmers are facing unbelievable problems.
In 1975 the then Minister for Agriculture, Mark Clinton, made special allowances for the Shannon Valley/Suck area, and later Deputy Austin Deasy, then Minister for Agriculture, also recognised the exceptional problem which existed there. By careful negotiation in Brussels he got special aid through the headage mechanism to alleviate the major problems some farmers faced at that time. I cannot for the life of me understand why the Government have not gone to Brussels and sought aid to alleviate the major problems facing our farmers today.
I want to put it clearly on the record that the response of the Government has been totally inadequate and out of touch with reality. The response of the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Deputy Kirk, during last week's Dail Debate on flood damage to farming and other sectors and the Government's response to the heavy cost to farmers as a result of flooding and storm damage, is cause for deep concern.
The present losses in livestock, structural damage and damage to land as a result of flooding will be in excess of £10 million. Large tracts of prime agricultural land, not normally prone to flooding, are now under water. The major problem facing many of those farmers is not the damage caused by flood waters, but the damage it will cause down the road because of late grass growth, and the fact that in some cases, stock has to be moved. When the Minister was speaking in the Dáil he said that nowadays a high percentage of livestock were housed. Unfortunately, in the West of Ireland, that is not the case. While grants are made available farmers have to come up with the balance of the money. Very often, many west of Ireland farmers are unable to do that particularly as their incomes have slumped over the last two years in the dry stock industry and the sheep industry. Now it looks as if the milk industry is a major problem.
The vast amount of this land will have to be reseeded costing vast sums of money plus the difficulty of late growth and the increase of up to 100 per cent of the cost of purchasing silage and hay. Throughout the country there are silage pits, haysheds and also farm dwellings flooded. The Government have sat idly by and allowed this to develop without coming to the assistance of those farmers.
I extend a special invitation to the Government to visit parts of the midlands and the west to see at first hand the widespread flooding to farm lands and the vacant houses. In some cases families have had to leave their houses while others are marooned in their homes. As recently as last week a lady in my area had to be rescued by the Army from her home. This is not acceptable in the nineties. In parts of this area the problem now is far greater and far more extensive than it was before. It is very difficult to understand why positive action has not been taken. In a recent report issued by the Roscommon County Engineer he estimated that it would take £1.5 million to raise the roads in South Roscommon above flood level and that in the whole county it would take in excess of £3 million. That is the type of money we need to alleviate the major flooding problems in Roscommon.
I want to refer to some areas adjacent to me and point out what is happening there. Some new houses are now flooded. Other houses which were not flooded in 1954 — the highest flooding on record prior to now — are also under water. When things were bad in this country and when the mode of transport was the horse and trap, Governments made vast financial sums available to alleviate hardship. I am now calling on the Minister to do likewise, to make moneys available for rehousing, where that is necessary, and to provide financial assistance for the purchase of feedstuff to keep livestock alive.
I have already pointed out that a number of silage pits are flooded and that a vast amount of hay has been lost as a result of flooding. I am sure the Minister is aware of the difficult situation in parts of his own constituency but in Roscommon county it is estimated that 17,000 acres are under water. I now call on the Government to declare this present disadvantaged area an extremely severely handicapped area. This would allow the Government to take the one positive step of paying a maximum headage grant of £100 per head without any negotiation or delay. I also call on the Government to have the disadvantaged areas, which are not classified as severely handicapped, so classified to allow the payment of headage grants in those areas.
Additional headage payments were made in 1985 and 1986 so the precedent is there. It was acknowledged by Brussels then that there was an exceptional problem in many of those areas. I do not see why the Minister cannot take immediate steps to have aid made available to those people in the Shannon Valley, in the Suck Valley and in many other areas which have suffered extensively from flooding. There is also an opportunity for the Minister to declare part of the Shannon and Suck Valley an environmentally sensitive area, thereby creating additional financial assistance for the farming community.
We had a token acknowledgement of the problem by our EC Commissioner. The allocation of £120,000 at this time is derisory I cannot understand how any Irish Commissioner, particularly a former Agriculture Minister and a former rural Deputy, could offer such a small amount at this time to an Irish Government. It defies explanation. In 1986 the then Taoiseach set up a departmental committee with a view to setting up a Shannon Valley authority, I am calling on the Government to set up a Shannon Valley authority without delay to control and manage the Shannon and the Suck Valley in the years ahead.
Like Senator Naughten, I will be parochial. I come from the town of Athlone on the banks of the Shannon and it is appropriate that I should speak on this important motion. It is a fact of life that flooding of the Shannon is synonymous with the town of Athlone. When we hear of the Shannon flooding we think of Athlone. The parts I know best are the parts in south Westmeath and south Roscommon as I live on the Clonown Road close to the area that is flooded. People who live in areas in south Roscommon like Duogue, Kilnamanagh, Carricknaughton up to Clonown and Carrick O'Brien, Clonbonny and Golden Island know what it is like when there is flooding from the Shannon. They have come to live with the situation and can manage in mild or normal winter flooding. That has been the way for generations. It has been part and parcel of life for my relatives on both sides of the Shannon.
When there is high flooding as there was this year and as we had in 1954, there is a huge problem which needs to be looked at. While many people say it is not an emergency, and it may not be an emergency in the strict literal sense that people will not be drowned or killed in the same way as we talk about a major plane crash or a major train crash, for the people living there I have no doubt that it represents an emergency situation.
The floods in Athlone, in South Roscommon and south Westmeath over the last few months have caused great inconvenience. Many people had to leave their homes and had to move their cattle to higher ground. That presented problems for farming generally. They require help. In the areas I speak of where there is low land and when there is very heavy rain and high winds it is almost certain that there will be floods of an exceptional nature. Heavy rain and high winds in low lands is the criterion for excessive river Shannon flooding.
Senator Naughten spoke about a long-term solution. That is to be found in nothing less than the drainage of the Shannon but I do not know when that will happen. I do not think it will happen in my lifetime. It would cost millions of pounds so we have to consider what can be done immediately. I have to pay tribute to the staff of Westmeath and Roscommon County Councils who rallied to the cause as did groupings like the Civil Defence, the Garda and the Army who were very helpful in what was a critical time for many people. We should consider having a local government policy to enable the local authority to make an immediate response to the problem as they see it. The only effective agency handling the crisis in the south Athlone area over the past few months was the county council. The Minister for Education, Deputy O'Rourke was present and helped enormously. Senator Liam Naughten was equally helpful. The county council have the expertise and the knowledge. We opened an emergency office in Athlone and that was a help. I would like to see powers being given to the local authorities to put into play a plan for such an eventuality, and that there be the clear understanding that a full recoupment would be made to the county manager on production of appropriate accounts for the measures necessary to alleviate the immediate problem as he and the staff see it. For example, it was Westmeath County Council who initiated the move to get sleepers from the Department of Agriculture, but it took four days before the council were given clearance to buy them. Sleepers were necessary to raise cattle in their sheds out of the flood. The same applied to waders. I think if the county council had the power to ring the Department of Defence or who ever necessary to put all this into play, things would all move swiftly. However, it is important that their expenses would be fully recouped.
Many of the areas along the Shannon Valley are in the less severely disadvantaged areas. I feel at this point there is a very strong case for designating the entire River Shannon basin as a severely disadvantaged area. In that way we could avail of all the advantages under the disadvantaged areas scheme — the headage grants and high rates for dwellings, which generally help at a time of crisis. While I make the point that this year is a crisis year for them, if you live near the Shannon basin, you accept it as a fact of life that every year there is winter flooding. I believe there is a very real strong case to have the whole Shannon Valley designated as a severely disadvantaged area.
Senator Naughten referred to the cost of raising all the roads above the high water mark. Every local authority should be asked to examine areas of roads — not every road but certainly the vital ones which are well covered in a high winter flood — so that they may be raised above the flood level. We can make a comparison between 1954 and this year. I believe the flooding in 1954 was not as bad as this year. Then we had people living in the castle in Athlone, and others in local authority and private houses.
The situation has improved from that point of view. We have tractors and jeeps which are a help. Nonetheless, we should seriously consider designating these areas as severely handicapped. The allocation from EC Disaster Fund — £153,000 — is a miserly figure and I hope the Government will look for a greater allocation in the future. At the same time I welcome the fact that the Minister for the Environment set aside £1 million from available funds which provided for remedial works on public roads in some parts of the country. The area in question always has mild or normal winter flooding which in itself causes great inconvenience, but with the flooding we have had over the past number of months, it requires more than ordinary treatment. Therefore, the suggestions I have made would be a practical help in aiding the people who unfortunately find themselves in critical circumstances because of the floods.
I am grateful to the Minister for allowing the debate on the storm damage and its effect on all parts of Ireland. In the Minister's opening address he referred to the west, the north-west and many other areas. One would think that Tipperary was like Noah's Ark, sitting on top of the mountain, and that we had not suffered. We, in the north Tipperary area are surrounded by three rivers. Like Senator Fallon, I have listened to promises to drain the Shannon over the last 30 years; I have listened to proposals draining the Mulcair River for the last 25 years, and I have listened to plans for the draining of the Suir for the last 15 years, but because of the condition of these rivers and their tributaries, north Tipperary — as the song says has been "surrounded by water" since the storm damage broke in February.
I have witnessed cases where people could not get to work in towns. I have seen some of the finest farm land in north Tipperary which will not be dried out for at least another six weeks. Any rural Senator, who appreciates this time of the year knows now is the time farmers need to be out and doing what they should to prepare for another good summer, we hope. I have seen houses that will never be the same again, and as other speakers have indicated, the only response we got was from North Tipperary County Council. I must compliment the staff on the manner in which they went about their business. We were asked in North Tipperary County Council for an assessment of the damage before 16 February, and like the good council that we are, the submission was made on time and a figure of £570,000 was submitted as representing the amount of damage that has been caused to towns and rural areas in North Tipperary.
I have also been told by the county engineer that there will be a supplementary costing which will bring the approximate cost of total damage to £1 million. As a member of North Tipperary County Council, I realise the extent of the problem and what is being done, and then we hear of a derisory figure of £120,000 in aid from Brussels and that the Government are setting up committee. I am sick of committees. In my opinion if we are to wait for any committee to resolve this problem, it will be next Christmas before we hear anything about money being made available.
Another important aspect as far as I am concerned is the county roads system. For years now the county road system has been under-financed. This year alone North Tipperary County Council had a shortfall of £250,000. How do any Government or any Minister expect a local authority to tackle the severe hardship and the crisis created by the flooding of February and, at the same time, carry a shortfall of £250,000 which we need to contain a road structure which is slowly but surely disintegrating under our feet? Someone mentioned Hurricane Charlie. That is a very appropriate expression because I can remember 1954 and the year that Hurricane Charlie hit the country, but I do not think anyone can stand up here and say that 1990 was not the worst year ever. I have seen areas flooded that never flooded before. It was unbelievable. I saw a road outside Nenagh adjacent to the lakeshore collapse and we need £30,000 for its renewal.
In the hilly areas the same thing has occurred and, as I said already, the very fact that people were not able to get to work in town will indicate very clearly the massive damage and the severe flooding which has occurred in the last couple of weeks. At our county council meeting two weeks ago we met a deputation consisting of two industrialists, two farmers and a representative of the housing estate. In the two industrial developments, which employ about 250 workers, certain facilities which are very necessary for the staff for daily use were unavailable because of the flooding. The two farmers told how they cannot put cattle out on their land. We were told it required two days work by a fire brigade to clear the flooding of the road and around the houses in the estate. That area is within half a mile of Nenagh. It is an urban problem.
When you go and see what has happened in the country areas I cannot understand a Government with so many rural Ministers in Cabinet which cannot see the severe hardship and the emergency measures that must be taken. We are depending at the moment solely and principally on an under-financed local authority system. As has been said here already, there has been much talk over the years about draining the Shannon and other rivers but that is not what the people want to hear. The message I want to take back to North Tipperary County Council and to the people of north Tipperary is that the Government are concerned to resolve this serious problem. The Government and the Ministers concerned are clearly giving priority to additional urgent finance that is needed by the local authorities. As a member of the county council in North Tipperary I am only too well aware of the serious financial difficulties and I am sure the Leas-Chathaoirleach, a Kerry man, will agree that local authorities are seriously under-financed with regard to county roads work. These are the roads that are affected and unless steps are taken to offset this terrible disaster which has hit rural Ireland, I believe that in five years time the county road system will be back to the Mass tracks of the 1850s because the core of the roads is being destroyed and this recent disaster has caused further deterioration.
I am not at all happy with the way this problem has been taken on board by the Government. We may not get the report from the Cabinet sub-committee until the balmy days of July and in the meantime the people in rural Ireland, both town and country, will suffer. In addition to that the local authorities who are doing their damnedest to resolve the problems will be bankrupted by trying to stem the flow of flooding, which I am sure is the same in Kerry as well. We still have flooding in north Tipperary, despite the weather of the last couple of days. It will not go away unless the Government are concerned and are prepared to put their hands in their pocket and give the money that is urgently needed by the local authorities.
Like everybody else here this afternoon I welcome the opportunity to speak on this debate. Like my colleague who has just spoken. I regret the Minister's opening remarks that it seems to be the west and the north-west that are badly effected. I do not know where the Department of the Environment got the information, be it in October or whenever, that they were the only areas in the country affected. However, I will try to deal with the matter in hand.
I believe there is an air of unreality about the discussion here this afternoon, that if we talk about it the problem will be solved, that if the weather improves it will all go away. I do not believe that is the case. In fact, I think we could now slot this debate into the agenda on an annual basis because the problem is going to get substantially worse in the years ahead.
We have two problems to deal with at present; there is the obvious need to react to the floods and the severe damage that occurred over recent weeks, but that in itself does not deal with the far more important and fundamental problem of the changes that are occurring and the defenceless nature of our coastline in many areas. Not alone our coastline but indeed many midland counties are affected severely by flooding as well because of the situation of many of the rivers.
What I do not understand about this debate is that the Minister, when he spoke, did not refer to the long-term effects of what we have witnessed this winter. I must admit at this stage that I have no in-depth knowledge of the changes in climate that may or may not be occurring throughout the world, but we in Ireland are being affected by it. I think there is enough weight of opinion to suggest that we should be concerned and we should at least be making certain preparatory efforts and taking some certain measures, even if they are only precautionary at this stage, to put in train some sort of schedule of planning over the next number of years to deal with the major problem of coastal erosion.
My belief is that it will get substantially worse. I think the climatic changes we are witnessing at present are set to continue — many experts have said so; I am not saying they are right, there is a difference of opinion — and if this is to be the case, and it probably is, then the problem we face this year will be worse next year and progressively worse over the next decade. Whatever the costs now of trying to implement some kind of long-term planning in this whole area, if we do nothing, the one sure thing we can all bet on is that as the years go by it will get substantially and progressively more expensive and indeed will be beyond us to do anything about it.
I expect that the cost of tackling the problem at the moment probably runs to many millions of pounds. I am not suggesting for one minute that the Government have the all-embracing responsibility to find this money overnight, I think it should be a combination of Government, EC and indeed local authorities, and perhaps greater involvement by private interests, who have suffered hugely and dramatically as a result of storm damage, not least the agricultural sector and indeed many other sectors. Tourism has also been very severely affected. There is a combined force out there to set in train a major approach to solving this problem.
The damage that has occurred in my own constituency in Waterford has been extremely severe. I do not want to prolong the debate by being too parochial. I must refer to the uprooting of roads and some have literally disappeared. In Tramore the end of the prom is gone and the repair cost I believe is quite substantial because that road was raised to quite a high level above the beach area, and the underneath structure that supports it has literally disappeared. By coincidence, I happened to be in Cork, Kerry, Donegal, Tipperary, Sligo, Galway, Mayo, Waterford, Wexford, within those two weeks and I had an enormous problem in travelling because of the flooding. It is an extensive problem throughout the country and not peculiar to any county. The vast majority of the country was affected and that is why I am trying to approach it as more of a national problem. It needs national attention rather than the fire brigade measures to patch up the damage. I am not saying that it is not necessary in some cases to patch up the very severe damage that has been caused at present, but it is far more important that a long term solution be found to these problems.
The Minister in his speech said that some people should have had their properties insured but I am sure is aware that people who are subject to potential flooding, or indeed to the sea breaking sea walls, cannot get insurance even if they want it. This is true in the case of one farm of 220 acres located near Waterford airport, owned by a man named James O'Sullivan. His property has literally been destroyed, but he could not get insurance. Ten or 15 years of preparatory work and development to turn a wet area into prime agricultural land has literally been destroyed because the whole sea wall has gone. Not alone is his land and many other acres of land in danger, but there are now other severe identifiable weaknesses along the coastal walls which as of now have not been broken, but with the possibility of a repeat of the type of storms that we have had they will be severely broken. Costs stand at the moment in terms of hundreds of thousands of pounds for that area alone but could run to millions of pounds.
The question I would like to pose to the Government this afternoon — I do not think it is just to the Department of the Environment, but the Departments of Agriculture and Food the Marine and possibly Tourism and Transport, and the sub-committees that liaise between various Departments — is that some effort should be made for each of them to look at this problem. I do not think it would be fair to lump it all into the one area but you have to start somewhere.
The other point this problem has highlighted, of course, is the inability of local Government with the best will in the world to be able to react to this problem. Local government has no funds, it has no way in many areas of raising funds. Without money the local representatives are powerless. They might as well be sitting out in the park most of the time. I say that with no disrespect for local government because I have enormous time for that system and I am totally fed up with the way local government are treated. The flooding problem has highlighted the hopelessness of their situation in terms of being able to respond to a major problem because they have no way of raising money or of responding to the needs in this instance. Indeed there is not even planning in the long term for the development of their own areas. The attitude of the EC has been nothing but derisory. It was insulting, especially during the time of our Presidency of the EC, to respond to the problem the way it did. I do not understand what is so much different about Portugal that they could get in excess, as I understand it, of £1 million to cope with their problems while we are given the paltry sum of £120,000 which probably would not cover the damage that needs to be repaired on even one farmer's land. If the case was not put properly to the EC in the first instance, it should be approached again for more funding. I am very disappointed at the reaction that has come from Europe in this matter.
It is easy for anybody to stand up and say what we are not responsible for. That has been a lot of the problem with Irish politics in general over the last 20 years. We are all capable of pointing out what we are not responsible for but when it comes to doing something about a matter we seem to find reasons for not acting instead of thinking about what we should do.
I am genuinely concerned about the problems the storm damage has highlighted as much as about the damage that has been done. As an island nation surrounded by water with many rivers and tributaries criss-crossing the country we have to consider the long-term effects and the possibilities. I think they are very severe. Many people have referred to 1954. I was born in 1954 so obviously I do not remember the damage that occurred at that time.
With all the moneys that have been spent over the years, with all the shoring that probably has been done and with the technology of today, something is seriously wrong when such damage as we are talking of can occur.
I would like to end with the message that I hope a long-term strategy can be evolved. I obviously want to see immediate relief for individuals who have been severely hurt, possibly irretrievably by the storm damage. Efforts have to be made in that regard, but if we are merely going to take fire brigade action and patch up what has happened I guarantee this House that we will be back here with the same debate next year and the year after. We must take long term action.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to address what has been a major problem in most parts of our country since early December last. I tabled a motion in my name and in the names of my colleagues in early January, and it is still on the Order Paper. It reads:
That Seanad Éireann notes with concern the extensive damage caused to public and private property in coastal areas of the South and South East of the country resulting from the storms of the 16th and 17th December, 1989; and aware of the inability of the relevant local authorities to finance the works needed to protect the communities involved against further damage and coastal erosion, calls on the Government to accept responsibility for the financing of the necessary sea defence works.
Little did I think tabling that motion way back in January that we would have at least a couple of months of extensive bad weather and depressions across our country. While in my own county, coastal defence is the main difficulty we have in the wake of the three months bad weather — we do have flooding to property and farm land as well — the real crisis is with our coastal defence systems throughout the country nationally. There have been major problems both to public and private property, to harbours, to piers, to roads and to the fishing fleet. The fishermen are down £20 million on catches alone and have to suffer the added loss of damage to their boats. The agricultural community reckon they are at least £10 million down, that is without proper assessment of fodder losses or the extra fodder that will be needed to feed cattle and stock generally this winter. It is with amazement that we all heard a Government Minister state that there were no real losses to the agricultural sector. I do not intend to develop that here today but would just remind the House that we are now addressing this motion to a Government who apparently have no idea of what the people have suffered over the last three months because of bad weather and storm damage generally.
It was disingenuous of the Minister of State, Deputy Connolly, in his address to us today to refer to the discretionary grants which have been increased this year. They were increased in the Estimates for this year, Estimates which were published prior to the major storms we have just had, Estimates that were increased for work on our county and regional roads, acknowledging the appalling condition they were in before any extra damage had occurred. To throw that in as if in some way it was a recognition and finance to help in respect of the storm damage is nothing short of disingenuous and I do not think it is worthy of the Department to trot that type of material out to us here in the Seanad today. It is perhaps to be expected, as they clamour for some sort of defence of the indefensible in view of their position and their response to the country generally in the wake of the damage. The sum of £153,000 we would spend on one street, on one pier, on one farmer's land, as other Senators said, in County Wexford. There would be some squabble if we had to divide it up equitably among the counties that have been ravaged by storms in our country. It would be better if they had said that they had no money to give than to come up with £153,000. Should they draw lots to find out which area or which amenity will actually receive this money?
I would like to take up a point that has been raised which I feel very strongly about, that is, that all coastal defence works, all coastal protection charges, should be a national charge and not a charge on local government. The maritime counties and the maritime county councils do not own the beaches and the harbours of the areas that happen to bound their counties. In Wexford we do not stop the Kilkenny and the Carlow people using our lovely beaches at Curracloe and Rosslare and all down along the south. Those beaches are national amenities, national assets and we welcome people coming to the county to use them. We cannot expect the few commercial ratepayers left in County Wexford — Wexford County Council are no longer a financially autonomous body — to fund the enormous costs that have evolved in relation to the coastal defence works in County Wexford alone. Other coastal maritime counties can make the same case. The General Council of County Councils have been beseeching Ministers to look seriously at that issue. We need a national coastal survey, we need national funding for the national asset that is our coastline, particularly on the east coast where we have a sand dune coastline with no rock outcrop protecting the land from the ravages of the sea.
That point having been made, I would also like to castigate the Government for not including coastal defence works or a request for coastal defence money in the national plan that was submitted to Brussels this time last year for drawing down the Structural Funds money. When will this country ever get the opportunity again of being offered the doubling of the Structural Funds they will get over the last four years? When can we ever expect such money again through the Regional Fund? Yet the Government — I will not say in their wisdom, I do not consider it wise at all — decided to delete any request for coastal erosion or coastal protection moneys from the submission in the national plan that went to Brussels. I still await an honest explanation from the Minister concerned as to how this could have happened.
The tragedy on our coastline this winter highlights the foolishness of that move, if it needed to be highlighted at all. Nationally, they are the two big issues. The national Exchequer should fund coastal defence works and the Government stand indicted as having failed coastal communities by not including coastal defence moneys and structural defence works on our coastlines in the national plan.
In Wexford the greatest disaster this winter in terms of storm damage occurred on the nights of 16 and 17 December. May I start, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, by reference to my own county, with a word of thanks and sincere appreciation to the emergency services in County Wexford? The response of our county council, civil defence, ambulance, fire brigade services, lifeboats and of the whole local community, particularly in Kilmore Quay, which is an area that the whole country learned about, was something that I, personally, am extremely proud of. But for their immediate and quick reaction we would not only be talking about the loss of three trawlers, damage to 14 or 15 other trawlers, the enormous breach in the pier wall of Kilmore Quay and the devastation to that local maritime community, but we would also be talking in terms of loss of life. Thankfully, the effort and the quick reaction of the defence and emergency services in our county prevented that from happening.
We have had major problems, mainly stemming from 16 and 17 December, but also in recent weeks in the Courtown area of County Wexford. The weather of the last couple of months has resulted in the breakdown in the defences of the Ballyteigue drainage works which resulted in considerable flooding of the land at the back of this area. This is a polder area. It fronts, or defends from the sea, 7,000 to 8,000 acres of farmland. I do not have to point out here that a breach of the defence works in this area would have had major implications for life, livestock and the livelihood of the people in this area. Damage occurred in the sea wall at Lough and there was a large breach near Lacken Lane. Immediate repair works are needed there to prevent further disintegration and to prevent flooding of the whole area.
In the Blackstone area there was a breach of the sea defence works which has since been repaired by the Office of Public Works. Major work and a major survey of this area and of the defence wall in this area is needed. A serious breach would cause major disasters. There were 100 acres flooded in this area. There is a major possibility of loss of life in the event of a more serious breach of the wall in this area.
Going eastwards from the Cull area towards Kilmore there are a number of other places that need immediate examination and assessment by the Office of Public Works. There was overtopping of the crest of the dune system here in a number of locations by the sea. We must have repair works and maintenance done in this area. Again, should the dunes in this section fail to protect the area there is real potential for the loss of life.
Going further up the coast, Duncannon pier stood up to the major ravages of the storm, but in this area there was damage to boats also. Ironically, the boat that was most damaged was actually in dry dock at the time. It was caught by the winds coming from a particular direction.
Kilmore Quay has been well documented. The loss of the livelihood of the fishermen in this area and the loss of trawlers has been documented. We await the major capital scheme. We are six years waiting for a capital scheme under the Coast Protection Act to protect the ravaging of Rosslare Strand. Ballyconnigar lost its pier. There was enormous flooding of tourist and caravan areas. Cahore pier was seriously undermined. The sub-structure there needs immediate attention. Courtown has the coast to the sea within three feet of the borough road. Emergency rock arming by the county council is insufficient. Wexford County Council and its ratepayers are not in the position to fund the much needed work along our coastline. Wexford town is at major risk of flooding, particularly if there is a breach through the burrow at Rosslare Strand.
The catalogue continues. The derisory response of this Government to the flooding problems and to the storm damage problems both inland and on our coast over the last three months deserve a proper response, both nationally and locally.
I welcome the opportunity of speaking in this debate. Storm damage has created serious problems for the country. Local authorities have found that they are not in a position to deal financially with the situation. Many business people and small farmers throughout the country are finding it impossible to correct the effects of the storm damage, especially with regard to flooding. Like previous speakers, I am going to be parochial. I am satisfied that we, in Kerry, have suffered more than most over the past three months. We have had very heavy rainfall and storm damage. The Maharees peninsula once again suffered in a very big way. This peninsula is a major tourist area and its future is seriously threatened by continued coastal erosion. That has been added to by the recent storms. Over the past 20 years this problem has been highlighted, but nothing has been done.
It is now at a crisis stage. A deputation of concerned residents recently appeared before Kerry County Council, once again highlighting their situation and seeking immediate funding. However, under the Coastal Protection Act, 1963, local authorities are requested to put up 50 per cent of the cost of coastal protection work. Kerry County Council, like other local authorities, are not in a position to contribute this type of funding. I would hope to see this Act amended, thus reducing the subvention of local authorities from 50 per cent to 10 per cent.
Other areas seriously affected in Kerry include Ballyheigue and Ballybunion, where again coastal erosion is an ongoing problem and the recent storms have not helped. Over the past number of years Kerry County Council have spent in excess of £100,000 on coastal work. A recent estimate presented by the county engineer to the members of Kerry County Council indicated that he would need in excess of £1 million to carry out remedial work as a result of the storms. Here I hope assistance would be forthcoming from the Government.
Twenty five years ago Kerry County Council submitted a list of priority works to the Office of Public Works, but to date not one of these schemes has got under way. It is now accepted in Kerry that unless immediate action is taken the Maharees peninsula will become an island. I am stressing the position of the Maharees because we have got several commitments over the years to help solve this problem, but as I said already, nothing has happened.
I welcome the transfer of the responsibility for coastal protection from the Office of Public Works to the Department of the Marine. I look forward to a coastal protection programme being drawn up for the whole country. The recent storm damage has also added to the problems at Fenit Harbour. This is a major harbour servicing the commercial life of Kerry and the surrounding counties. There are 34 people employed on a casual basis on the docks. I would like to avail of this opportunity to highlight the position of Fenit Pier. Commercial ships cannot berth until two hours before high water and two hours after high water. The same applies to fishing craft. The shippers using the port are refusing to send their boats to Fenit Harbour, fearing damage. The dockers and their families are worried about their future employment, as this is locally regarded now as a dead-end. A recent submission has been made by the workers through their trade unions to the Minister for his personal attention. I would appreciate very much if he would consider acceding to the request for a special grant, thus guaranteeing the future of this port.
Ballyheigue and Ballybunion have also been seriously damaged as a result of the storm. Both are major tourist resorts. Here again remedial work is urgently needed until such time as a comprehensive programme can be formulated with a view to averting further damage to the two particular areas.
I have been informed by many small farmers that they are not now and have not been for some time, in a position to get insurance for farm buildings, hay sheds and other outhouses, although they could get comprehensive insurance for their houses and garages. It was impossible for them to get insurance cover other than insurance against fire and lighting on farm buildings. Storm and flooding was excluded by all the major insurance brokers. I would appreciate if the Minister would have this aspect of insurance cover investigated. As a result, a small number of these people had buildings damaged which were not covered by insurance.
I welcome the recent statement by the Minister that a report was being put together by Teagasc and the other farm development services on the actual losses. I hope that when these surveys are being considered by the Cabinet sub-committee, before being presented to the Government, we can look forward to action.
I understand that our MEPs are discussing the serious effects of flooding and storm damage. In view of the fact that the likelihood of so many people has been affected, every effort should be made to get direct funding from the EC. The areas that have been affected in this country are now areas of disaster. I hope that these areas which are not already designated as severely handicapped will be so designated and that the farmers in the area will benefit.
Finally, I welcome the recent statement of the Minister for Finance that the EC have granted a total of £153,000 for disaster relief but this is a very small amount. I hope that as a result of present discussion taking place in Europe the amount will be substantially increased. The moneys already allocated will be distributed by the Irish Red Cross Society on the strict criteria laid down by the EC Commission. I would also like to be associated with compliments to the local authorities and in my case, Kerry County Council, for the manner in which they responded to the problems created by recent storm damage and flooding. The Garda, the Civil Defence and the local defence forces all played a major part and deserve our sincere thanks.
I would like to approach this very serious matter from the point of view of its national implications, which are very great. I accept the various parochial matters that have been highlighted. They are important. I will be referring to a few of them, time permitting.
I have had discussions with the farming organisations and various other bodies who have been doing an indepth study of the whole loss situation they have put together a picture of the position as it seems at this point. The minimum — and I underline the minimum — loss in the agricultural sector would be of the order of £10 million and could be as high as £20 million. These figures are rather alarming and very far removed, unfortunately, from what I believe to be the acceptance by Government of the losses sustained.
For the benefit of the Government, through the Minister, I will give some breakdown of figures of structural damage. These are factual figures as recent as of yesterday. Two thousand claims were reported to insurance companies. One of these claims will be in excess of six figures. The total estimated cost of these claims will be something like £2.75 million. That, as a starting out point, is enormous. Added to that, 50 per cent of the farmers of this country are not insured. These farmers regrettably are located in the west and in the north-west. We have a very serious situation there. In the context of structural damages one could be talking about a further £2 million or £4.75 million in all.
As far as land damage is concerned, there has been a minimum of 300,000 acres flooded for at least a two week period, and perhaps nearer to three weeks. With a conservative estimate based on absolute facts, the loss in production during the current year, 1990, will be about £4.5 million. Water remains on the lands and the necessity for crops to be replaced and some of the grasses reseeded will be expensive.
Approximately 1.5 million sheep have lambed, with nearly 300 million sheep to lamb over the next two months or thereabouts. Throughout the country a considerable number of young lambs and sheep have been lost. There has been a massive increase in what is known as the twin lamb disease. The losses on the sheep side would reach around £1.66 million. Many cattle have been killed by roofs blowing off sheds. The estimated loss under this heading will be about £500,000.
The question of feed was referred to earlier. It is no harm to remind ourselves that there are approximately seven million cattle in Ireland. If we estimated that approximately 40 per cent of these animals have to be fed an extra 1 kg per day in order to maintain their normal live weight gain and that 50 per cent of the sheep in the country have to be fed an extra 0.25 kg per day to maintain their weight for a period of one month the total cost would be about £1.2 million. Of course, the biggest expenditure that will be confronting farmers will be the increased cost for hay and silage. Yards containing silage and hay sheds have been flooded. There have been massive losses in this area. On a conservative estimate, taking into account that fodder costs will be increased by as much as 150 per cent, farmers will incur a total bill for fodder of about £11 million. If we take all these figures into account one would reach about £20 million. As I said at the beginning, the absolute minimum would be £10 million. Nobody could say definitely that it is going to be £20 million. Some of the losses have not yet surfaced. Many houses have had their structures undermined. The real extent of the damage has not been shown. Many trees are barely standing. Apart from the hundreds of acres that still remain flooded, land generally is not passable. As the Minister will know as a practical farmer, flooded land cannot be travelled. Hopefully, if we get a few more days like today things will change but land cannot be travelled for the application of fertilisers or for the routine matters that should be attended to at this time of year.
The flooding of homes, be it in Limerick, Tipperary, Wexford or Dublin is a very serious matter. Quite frankly, I do not think one can put a figure on the compensation that those persons should get in order to relieve them of the misery and the mess they have suffered. The roads have been seriously undermined. This is a long-term matter. The roads have been so damaged it may be next year or the year after before the erosion caused by this flooding will have become obvious and major problems will have arisen. Many houses have been severely battered and they could well be quite unsafe while appearing to be absolutely normal. I would submit that the Government should make a very strong case to Europe so that we will get something meaningful by way of compensation. It is a gross insult that our country is offered £153,000 to meet all these costs.
In my own part of the country, the River Mulcair broke its banks in a number of places. Several hundred acres were flooded for long periods. The river was supposed to have been drained year after year for the past 25 years to 30 years. I have a clear recollection of that.
The country, in the context of tourism, agriculture and industry has again been severely affected. I appeal to our Government to go to Europe, and to make the kind of case that needs to be made to get meaningful compensation for the very severe losses we have sustained.
I am thankful for the opportunity to raise the issue of the storm damage caused as a result of gale force winds and torrential rain. This storm has caused serious inconvenience both to farms and private dwellings. Many cattle sheds had their roofs blown off, silage pit roofs were also blown off, pig houses were badly damaged and mushroom houses were torn apart by the strong winds. Poultry units were also damaged, and indeed poultry perished as a result of the ESB power failures. The gale force winds blew down many trees. Some of them fell on sheds and some on dwelling houses and caused considerable damage to property, telephone lines and ESB lines. On the domestic scene a number of dwelling houses have been badly damaged with slates blown off and windows blown in. Also, TV aerials were blown down by the gale force winds.
I wish to draw attention to the problems caused by flooding following the torrential rain. Monaghan and Cavan were very badly affected. I wish to draw particular attention to the Dromore River that flows between Ballybay and Cootehill. This river never flooded as badly as it has flooded in the past two to five years. There is a problem on this river to which I would like to draw the Minister's attention. There is a permanent weir erected at Cootehill and this weir should be lowered in the winter and raised in the summer to keep the levels of the water at a particular level. The waters are blocked up in the winter months. The water is rising upstream towards Ballybay, flooding a lot of land, roadways and laneways, and leaving individual dwellings and farmyards impassable. These people over the past two or three years have been grounded. They could not get to or from their farms. This is a very serious problem.
The county roads have suffered dramatically as a result of the torrential rain. Flooding has caused a lot of damage to these roads in Monaghan and Cavan. Because of the drumlin-type soils there, there is not the same drainage in the ground as in other parts of the country. We are suffering badly. Our roads are in a dreadful state and are getting worse. This last storm has caused complete havoc on our roads. I would like to tell the Minister that we were glad of the allocation we got earlier this year in the Estimates. However, I have to point out that the roads are ten times worse now than ever before. I ask the Minister to consider the state of the roads in Cavan and Monaghan to see what he could come up with to resolve the situation. I would also ask him to look at the possibility of making a hardship fund available to assist people to restore their buildings and property damaged as a result of the bad storms we had over the last number of weeks.
If we were to look at County Limerick in relation to storm damage over past few weeks we would be talking about a very modest estimate of £1.2 million. All Limerick County Council are doing with that money is to bring conditions back to what they were before the storm. The moneys are going totally on the improvement of roads and bridges. Let us compare that figure with the derisory sum of £120,000, which has now increased to £153,000. It is about 0.5 per cent. The initial estimate of £200 million nationally is now being revised as more and more detailed submissions regarding drainage flooding come in from county councils and corporations throughout the country. To bring a county road back to a decent condition would cost £120,000, for six miles of such road; that is all.
In Limerick County Council alone we have 1,800 miles of county road. That puts it in the context the money coming from the disaster relief fund. The Minister for the Environment, from what I read of his Dáil response, considers that the reaction of the Government over the past number of years related to storm damage was quite adequate. He talked about £1 million since the 1987 storms by way of assistance towards the cost of remedial works to public roads being quite adequate.
Let us talk very briefly about potholes nationally. What is going to happen? First and foremost, pothole filling is a waste of good money. Already within an hour of pothole filling, with the storms, the winds, the rains, etc. we have, the fillings are just blown out. So it is just a complete waste of time, as far as I am concerned, to even bother trying to bring those roads back up and even to fill those potholes. The most interesting comment that the Minister, Deputy Flynn, made was when he talked about the fund being symbolic. The roads of Ireland, too, are symbolic. They are a symbolism of a country that is not categorised as Third World but really is Third World in regard to its infrastructure.
There is no compensation, according again to Minister Flynn, for agricultural damage. He says that the relief disaster fund is not for infrastructural projects or remedial schemes. He says, rightly, that the primary objective is to bring urgent aid to community residents who are the victims of natural catastrophes recognised as being of exceptional scale and gravity. That is fine, but it does not address the issue of the millions being quantified now as money necessary to redress the problems.
The insurance situation has been dealt with by Senator Hourigan and I will not go into it. What is the brief of the working committee of Government Departments in their joint effort to address this issue?. There is also a reference in one of the reports that INVIRIC has been mentioned as a possible source of funding. I would refer again to the Mulcaire basin. This is a saga in the County Limerick area. It is now within the folklore of locals — it goes back in history — in regard to promises from many Governments over the past number of years on the proposed drainage of that county. I heard an MEP saying the other day that it was just snipe grass and bogland. I would invite him to walk the banks of the Mulcaire and he will not see a snipe or a bit of snipe grass or bogland. What he will see is potential agricultural land that should be brought back into production.
Limerick County Council spent £100,000 per year to keep the river banks from being breached. They have not been breached by this flood, but the ponding up of waters from subsidiary streams actually has caused 20,000 acres to be flooded. I would consider resources to Limerick County Council on an ongoing basis of £100,000 a waste of money in the same way as pothole filling is a waste of money. Minister Daly walked the banks of the Mulcaire the other day, I was not very far behind him. All I can say is that, if he is talking about proposed marinas in his part of the country, County Clare, he has a natural marina as a result of the flooding the other day. He could really leave it as such and forget about the drainage of the Mulcaire. We would accept that at this stage. We certainly are not going to go into the next century with the saga continuing. My own area of Castletroy again has been flooded. The city itself, which is not in the same category of Cork for flooding, thank God, has been affected very much by high estuarial waters.
There is the danger of effluent contamination in the Limerick area where the city dump has been flooded. What is going to happen there if dump effluent is going to be washed into the soils? Live-stocks have been removed from the area.
The plight of the farmers has been well documented by speakers over the last while. All I can say is that they have already been hit by poor silage growth this year due to the drought. Again, the benefits of basic annual dressing of fertilizers on land which has been subsequently flooded will for the most part be lost, because the nutrients will be washed away. I really forecast poor times for farmers.
No reference has been made to the climatic problems. I would not be able to quantify why we have such extraordinary catastrophical climatic reactions. We could talk forever about the ozone layer. I heard Senator Ross say yesterday that the debate on the storm was untimely, looking out at what he considered was a calm spring day. I cannot forecast that we are going to have calm weather between this and next year. The greatest climatologists at the moment are not in a position to give us a global forecast for climate.
What we must do now is to put pressure on what I would regard as the three people most effective as regards wielding power in this area — the Taoiseach, particularly in the light of the six month Presidency, likewise our Commissioner in Brussels; and, of course, the Minister for Agriculture. I would hope that they would push as hard as they can to do something for us. We are an island nation, but we are in danger of being actually blotted out if we are to be affected by continuous storms over the next while.
I think it is a good idea that this debate is taking place. We are all aware of the severe damage and problems which have been caused by the storms over the last number of months. It has been a particularly ferocious time, between rain and wind and various problems. I would like to deal generally with the problems and then specifically with the situation that has arisen in the Dún Laoghaire area. I hope that when the Minister goes back to discuss it with the officials in his Department he will be able to bring some specific points to their attention.
First, I welcome the setting up of a sub-committee of the Departments mainly concerned — Marine, Agriculture, Environment and, more importantly, Finance. At the end of the day the big problem will be that of providing the extra money to deal with the situation. Big money will be involved in order to repair the damage.
Throughout the country there is not a village nor a townland that has not experienced some problem. My colleagues here, Senator Hourigan and Senator Jackman, have outlined the difficulties in their areas, in particular in relation to the agriculture industry, problems which are probably adding to the woes of some farmers in these difficult times. Obviously, it is important that the Cabinet sub-committee which has been set up should very quickly be able to get together to assess the problems in the various areas. It is to be hoped that there can then be a response.
The Minister has indicated that householders cannot necessarily obtain money from his Department. Hopefully they have sufficient insurance to cover their loss and damage. If there is going to be a rash of claims, the fact is that we are probably all going to have to pay for it to a greater or lesser degree. The reality is that we have no control over the elements. Obviously, we can take preventative measures. It is to be hoped that the local authorities in every area will have learned from their experiences, so that where bad flooding or damage is caused by a particular problem some remedial measures can be taken for the future. It is important that we learn from the past couple of months and, if there is to be a repeat of this in the future, hopefully it will be less damaging because of steps we can take.
I would like to pay tribute to the various bodies who have assisted at times. Sometimes it is literally at a couple of hours' notice, or less, that people can find themselves in various predicaments. Members of the Garda, the Army, the Fire Brigade, Civil Defence and other bodies have helped out and helped people to get by. We have seen some horrific pictures on the television of flooding and of people being stranded. Our thanks must go to all those who have assisted.
In the general Dún Laoghaire area the damage is estimated by the corporation officials at about £250,000. The damage has been caused in quite a number of areas going from Seapoint out towards Dalkey. There has been quite a lot of damage to various piers. Literally whole faces of rock and walls have been broken and damaged. Because the area is near the sea and because of the DART line quick remedial action is very difficult and also very costly. I would ask the Minister, when he gets in the Dún Laoghaire report, to try to give it as urgent attention as possible because there have been great problems there. To gain access to this area is sometimes quite difficult for the officials. Some of the work would have to be done what we would probably call outdated methods — it would nearly have to be done by hand.
Obviously, old walls and old piers which are split have to be totally replaced. It is difficult and probably expensive work, but I would ask the Minister when he is considering the report from the Dún Laoghaire area to be as generous as he can. I understand he has given about £20,000 for earlier works. The problem is that there are going to be quite a number of other claims. I also understand that some of the sewer levels and sewers were moved and that gravel blocked some of the sewers, which is causing further problems.
It is important that the Minister, along with the other Ministers on the Cabinet sub-committee, would endeavour to provide as much money as possible. I welcome the announcement of the £1 million, but when one assesses the damage in the whole country obviously £1 million is going to fall very short of what is required. I am sure there would be all-party support for finding extra funds in order to solve the difficulties involved. It is important that we look towards the EC for whatever money can be provided. I know there are strict guidelines laid down as to how the money can be used; but hopefully the scheme can be broadened so that the money can be provided in the various cases.
We are all aware of the very difficult situation throughout the country. We all want to see as good a response as possible. I believe there will be general all-party support for the Minister, the Government and the Cabinet in responding as generously as possible and providing the extra money. I would also hope that as a result of the lessons we have learned from this unfortunate and costly experience, the country will ultimately benefit.
As one would expect in times of high wind and heavy rainfall, the west did not escape lightly in any way. I listened with interest to what the Minister had to say and I particularly noted the fact that he said there was no help available to private individuals. However, I would like to raise a question here regarding the damage caused to property particularly in west Connemara, and, more particularly, in both the Aran Islands and the island of Inisbofin. For two reasons these cases are hardship cases.
The first is that there has not been a tradition in these areas for private insurance. The second is that it is difficult at times in some of these areas to get private insurance for storm damage on properties. I have letters from people who have literally lost the roof off premises and houses and who are suffering grave financial loss as a consequence. Particularly on the islands, the cost of repairing any structure of that nature would be double that on the mainland because of the cost of transporting raw materials and building materials to the islands.
The second area I would like to address myself to is the damage caused by the very heavy rainfall to the infrastructure in Connemara, and particularly to the damage caused to the roads of Connemara because of the exceptionally high rainfall. We have been suffering from an infrastructure that is continually worsening due to a deterioration in our road structure over the years. Every time we get heavy flooding more of our roads are washed away. There is one valley where the parents are in a position where they reckon unless immediate remedial action is taken, they will not be able to send their children to school. I would, however, like to thank the Minister for the very generous help given last year which enabled Galway County Council to replace expeditiously a bridge that was destroyed in a flood last September.
On the question of piers, I would particularly like to raise the extremely hazardous situation that has arisen in connection with the Kilmurvey Pier at Inishmore. Tá an cé seo i ndrochaoi le fada ach tá sé fíor-chontúirteach anois, ní hamháin do mhuintir an oileáin ach do na cuairteoirí uilig a théann go dtí an oileán sin sa samhradh. Creidim go bhfuil sé an-tábhachtach go gcuirfear caoi ar an gcé seo ionas go bhféadfaí é a usáid arís agus ionas nach mbeidh sé ina chontúirt do chuile dhuine a thabharfaidh cuairt ar Oileán Árainn.
Nuair a thagraimíd don taobh thoir den chontae, ní dóigh liom gur gá dom tagairt mhór a dhéanamh don dochar atá déanta ag tuillte sa chuid sin den chontae.
The extreme hardship suffered by the people of the eastern part of the Galway West area due to flooding caused by the recent rains has now been well recorded. In south Galway schools have been closed for several weeks now because of serious flooding. The situation of the farmers in these areas is very serious. The problem that has to be addressed is that, whereas the total number of farmers that are affected might not be great, there are some individual farmers who have suffered great loss due to the recent flooding. It is important that something be done to save these people's livelihood as it is impossible to insure land against this type of damage.
Finally, I would like to say that there are certain areas and stretches of road that perennially flood and it is time we addressed ourselves to these problems. The areas of public road, particularly of main road, that flood regularly should be identified and long-term remedial action should be taken so that this problem does not recur. In some cases this can be done by the simple expedient of raising the road slightly. In other areas what is needed is drainage to allow the water to escape. It would be expedient if money were allocated this year so that this problem could be addressed and we would not have to face it on an annual basis. It is very inconvenient for people to find that main roads are cut off for three to four weeks at a time or to find that houses are isolated by flooding. Even though it might not be possible to treat this as an emergency once the waters recede, these problems should not be left on the long finger but they should be addressed in years to come. If possible they should be addressed this year and a final solution found to them.
Tá an-áthas orm go raibh an deis seo agam labhairt ar an ábhar seo agus ba mhaith liom an t-Aire a mholadh as chomh scioptha agus a d'éirigh leis an fhadhb seo a réiteach.
I welcome the Minister and his contribution on the storm damage problem. I have to say in all honesty to the House and to the Minister that it is my view and the view of many people that the Government's response to the storm damage was, to say the least, tardy. I am convinced that the Government did not react initially with sufficient haste and seriousness until the problem was brought to their notice after some time. The most dramatic sign of Government indifference to the storm at the outset was the fact that Minister Kirk on the national airwaves and in the national media said he did not believe there was a problem, or words to that effect. That was very unfortunate. I would welcome the Cabinet sub-committee, but the fact that they have not reported even now is regrettable. The matter is of extreme urgency and the message going out from this Chamber this evening should be that it can wait no longer, we need an immediate report. We need immediate action. We need activity by Government.
In previous cases, most noticably a few years ago when my own party were in power, there was an equally bad storm, if not a worse storm, and the response at that time was extremely brisk and effective. I am glad the Government are at last taking the issue seriously, but I urge the Minister and the Cabinet and, most particularly the subcommittee and the Taoiseach, to act with haste, and get the money to the people in need.
Storm damage on a national level cost agriculture something in the region of £10 million. In the west and the north-west 50 per cent of the farmers are not insured against storm. The effects are long-term as well. It is worth making the point that all this damage, all this disturbance and all this destruction of the livelihood of small farmers in the west and the north-west, happened at a time when many of our small farmers are in the poverty trap and living below the poverty line.
The storm, as you know, pre-dominently took the form of flooding and gales. In some cases there were landslides. In my own constituency there was a landslide into a local river which caused immense flooding. There has been flooding of agricultural land a great deal of land is under water in large areas of the country, and there has been great damage to crops, fodder, livestock generally, farm buildings and the land itself. We have a problem with flooding of agricultural land and with flooding in general, and the effect of the gale force winds on agricultural buildings.
One of the very serious problems in my own constituency of Cavan/Monaghan is the fact that we have a crisis with our road structure. I have drawn this matter to the House's attention on many previous occasions. I am genuinely not being colourful or exaggerating when I say that County Cavan has a chronic problem with potholed roads, roads that would make the Tibetan passes of India look luxurious, with broken down road structures, potholes and subsidence of road structures.
Where the flooding and bad weather presents a chronic problem it will make an already desperate road situation much worse. I brought this matter to the House's attention in an emergency debate previously. Because the professional engineering and administrative staff of the local authority and, indeed, experts from the Department of the Environment, are of the view that it would take something in the region of £7 million per year on a rolling programme for the next five years to bring the roads of County Cavan into a reasonable condition, you can appreciate the impact of the storms on them. The storms have made a very bad situation a lot worse. They have aggravated a very bad situation. I would like to hear the Minister's reponse to this. I appeal to him to bring the view to Government that in the case of County Cavan — and I am not being hysterical, parochial or unreasonable about this, where an already broken down road structure is broken down to a much greater degree, something needs to be done. In his address to the Seanad the Minister drew attention to some discretionary funds at the disposal of county councils for dealing with storm damage in the case of roads. The position in my constituency is of great seriousness. The issue was raised recently in tourist boards. It has been raised in the national media. It has been raised in all sorts of rural organisations, and in all political parties. It is not something I decided to bring to the House's attention in a unilateral way. It is an accepted problem. The discretionary funding granted to Cavan County Council would do nothing towards alleviating the specific difficulties of that county. I want the Minister to note that in addressing this question.
I hope we will have an immediate response from the Government. I hope we will have an immediate compensation structure put in place for the victims of storm damage and that something will then be done with the infrastructure broken down by the storm, and particularly the roads that have been adversely affected by the flooding over the last number of weeks. I look forward to hearing the Minister address that specific area of difficulty in his reply.
I welcome the Minister to the House. His presence here indicates the seriousness with which he and the Government take this problem. I compliment the Government on their action in that a number of measures have been put in place. Local government, which is an arm of Government, have been up front on the issue. Our county and city managers — I speak in particular about my own county manager and his staff — were very much on top of the situation and they are to be commended. I assume that action was also taken by other county managers throughout the country. The Government have set up a subcommittee which is welcome. The extent of damage cannot be fully evaluated until the floods subside. The sub-committee will then be in a position to indicate to us all their final analysis of the situation.
I come from an area in south Roscommon, which is bordered on one side by the Shannon and on the other side by the Suck. It is an area well known for flooding. It would be unusual if we did not have a few floods each year; there have been occasions when we have had up to six floods in a year. However, we are reliably informed that the flooding this year equals, if not surpasses, the big flood of 1954. At that time many people had to be moved because of the severity of the flooding. Many houses were flooded and a considerable number of people had to get temporary accommodation. The Government helped out then and families were resettled in areas on higher ground. We had three families on this occasion, one of them in a new house which was only built in the last five years, who had to be moved. That shows the severity of the floods in the area. We are unfortunate as the Shannon is narrow in that area and the floods spread out over our territory and into the Minister's territory also. He is well aware of the situation in his own county. His constituents and mine have had to endure the problems of flooding during the years.
We had the further problem this time in that we had a storm with the flooding. To give an indication of how severe that storm was, during the month of February in our county 130 trees had to be dealt with by the staff of Roscommon County Council. That added to the work and responsibility of area engineers and of outdoor staff, supervisors and workers. Apart from that boats had to be provided to bring essential supplies and to make contact with villages and houses that were cut off. We still have a number of villages cut off.
We do not have any record of flooding in Roscommon on the last occasion. When flooding occurs there can be broad and emotive statements made on a national basis but if people confine their observations to the areas they know and for which they have responsibility, we will get a truer picture. For that reason I have investigated every case in the county where people have been affected by the flooding and the storm. We found villages in the good uplands of Dysart and Taugh-maconnell that got cut off. The only reason for that was that there are underground rivers and when the flood got high this spread out. Villages that would normally be considered to be in the good uplands of south Roscommon were cut off.
Our county engineer and county manager have estimated that the cost of the emergency services to the county is something in the region of £35,000. That was their initial sum. They say that the cost of a restoration work is in the region of £200,000. Many roads have been damaged and culverts and some drainage work done on the side of roads, to alleviate flooding in the past, have now silted up. We have much work to do when this flood is over and there will be considerable cost involved. I have no doubt that with co-operation and consultation between the Department, county managers and county engineers matters can be resolved. It is important that we highlight them as there may be remedial work or there may be preventative work to be done so that this will not happen again. We have identified in each county maybe ten or 12 different locations where expenditure of a small amount of money would raise a road for 100 yards or 200 yards, and in some cases for only 30 or 40 yards, that would exclude future flooding.
We have an area prone to flooding known as the Clonown area. I am sure many Members know the area; they may have heard of it for its carrots, but we know it better for its flooding. It has been the situation that during the years every time there was a flashflood an entire farm, except for an acre or two, has been flooded. The owners have put up with hardship, not just this year but every year. They have had a very severe situation this year as the amount of ground left available to them for farming has been cut to the minimum. I know of some farmers who are down to an acre or two. Our agricultural office and our county manager estimate that there are 16,478 acres affected by the floods in the Shannon Valley of Roscommon and in the Suck Valley. That is a lot of land. While in some cases the flood will go down and there may not be any great damage, in other cases reseeding may be needed. It is at a later stage we will be able to evaluate that.
I ask that the matter be taken on board. We have efficient people in local government. I found them very responsible in times of emergency when matters had to be dealt with. We have to row in with our county engineers and our county managers. On this occasion they did a good job. When they make their submissions I ask that they be evaluated and seriously considered so that we can set in place measures to prevent such flooding in the future.
I would like to thank all the Senators for their contributions to this debate. There is no doubt that the bad weather over recent months has caused problems throughout the country. Many aspects of day-to-day living have suffered a disruption and many people have experienced hardship. I will be drawing to the attention of the relevant Ministers and the Government the various points raised. The two last speakers come from a rural constituency like my own. I appreciate their problems as I appreciate the problems of those other Members who have spoken.
Senator O'Reilly referred to road grants. In regard to discretionary grants this year, Cavan received a 57 per cent increase on last year or a special supplementary improvement of £500,000. These are the facts. The overall increase in road funds by my Department to Cavan County Council was 33 per cent. I had to find the money but I was glad to be able to help. I do not want to get into too controversial a debate. When we come into office in 1987 the money allocated to county roads by the previous Administration was only a paltry £7 million. What is it today? These are the facts.
The contributions from some Members of the Seanad would lead one to believe that the Government have been in some way negligent in their response to weather induced difficulties. Nothing could be further from the truth. To illustrate this, let me take Senators back to the severe weather of August 1986. Then, following severe flooding in southern and eastern areas of the country in the wake of Hurricane Charlie, the Government, following receipt of reports and estimates of damage to public roads and bridges, provided road grants totally £6,449,000 which were notified in October 1986. In making these allocations account was taken of flood damage, which had occurred earlier in 1986, and in other areas of the country.
In October 1987 Donegal County Council were given some leeway in the use of grants for county roads to help them finance remedial works arising from floods during that month. The next bad bout of weather occurred during the latter part of 1988. Again the Government reacted positively to the urgency of the situation and £1.5 million was allocated in 1989 for remedial works to public roads and bridges in the counties affected.
May I remind the House of my earlier statement? Following the damage caused by the storms over the October bank holiday weekend, when areas of the north west experienced extremely heavy rainfalls and storms which hit the east and south coasts on 16 and 17 December last. The Minister notified local authorities throughout the country of road grants totalling £1 million by way of assistance towards the cost of remedial works to public roads and bridges affected.
In all cases the road funding involved had to be met within the provisions already available to the Department. No special additional Exchequer funds were provided. This is the record of a Government who are aware of the problems and are prepared to respond positively and with a sense of urgency to crisis situations. To suggest that the Government have not responded or shown any recognition of the problems caused by the recent adverse weather is just not true.
I will not belabour the fact of the establishment of a special Cabinet sub-committee except to say that the speed with which the consultative and assessment process, which I detailed earlier, was carried out, hardly reflects an uncaring attitude. Because of the comments of some of the Senators, I believe I must repeat some of my remarks about the EC disaster fund. The fund does not cover damage to public structures. It does not compensate for damage to property and is not for infrastructural projects or remedial schemes.
The principal objective of the fund is to provide urgent aid to the Community residents who are the victims of natural catastrophes that are recognised as being of exceptional scale and gravity. The fund is largely symbolic in that it represents a testimony of a solidarity of the other peoples of the Community to those members who find themselves in a situation of profound material and moral distress. The budgetary resources of the fund are tiny, amounting in 1990 to some £3.1 million approximately, in respect of the Community as a whole.
In deciding to intervene in any case the factors that are taken into account by the EC Commission are the extent of loss of life, the numbers made homeless and the degree of hardship suffered by those affected. The fund does not purport to offer strict compensation for the damage suffered by victims. Last Tuesday night in the Dáil, the Minister for Finance announced that the EC had granted a total of £153,000 in disaster relief following the recent storms. I can tell Senators that these moneys will be distributed by the Irish Red Cross Society on strict criteria laid down, not by the Government, but by the EC Commission. May I advise the House that in 1986 the amount provided by the EC under this heading was £114,000 and that the then Government did not regard that as derisory.
As Senators know, last year the Minister for the Environment gave the local authority members more say in how discretionary grants should be spent. I am glad to say that in being able to use these funds in many of the local authorities, the members decide on the priorities. That is the way it should be. I would like to point out also that the health boards helped out very well throughout the country in this recent bad weather, with flooding and all of that, and provided a very good service. That is recognised by all of us. I fully realise that the flooding had a bad effect on roads and on bridges throughout the country. As I said earlier, all this has been assessed. As far as the Department of the Environment are concerned we have got all the necessary information from the local authorities. That has gone to the Government now. We will see what we can do. Senators can take it that the Government will be making a decision on this matter very shortly. I stated at the outset I understand the situation that Senators Finneran, O'Reilly, Foley and others mentioned. I understand the great hardship it caused to many. We will endeavour to see what can be done. That will rest with the Cabinet. I expect a decision on it shortly.
There was some mention about buildings being blown down and other damage caused to farm buildings especially. That, as far as I know, was always covered by insurance, householder and farm policy insurance. That is what insurance companies are for. As far as I know, the farming community especially are very well advised by their organisations on that. Maybe now could be the time to have a look at that matter. If cover of that nature is not on those buildings and property, now is the time to seek advice from the insurance companies. I am sympathetically disposed. There are a number of other Departments as I stated at the outset involved in it also. I expect a decision very shortly on the issue.
When is it proposed to sit again?
On Wednesday next at 2.30 p.m.